GENIUS AND POVERTY
they immediately began lecturing about their own greatness.
But for his indifference the venerable Legendre might have
learned something about his own lifelong passion (for elliptic
integrals) which would have interested him beyond measure.
But he was just stepping into his carriage when Abel called and
had time for little more than a very civil good-day. Later he
made handsome amends.
Late in July 1826 Abel took up his lodgings in Paris with a
poor but grasping family who gave him two bad meals a day
and a vile room for a sufficiently outrageous rent. After four
months of Paris Abel writes his impressions to Holmboe:
Paris, 24 October 1862.
To tell you the truth this noisiest capital of the Continent
has for the moment the effect of a desert on me. I know
practically nobody; this is the lovely season when every-
body is in the country. ... Up till now I have made the '
acquaintance of Mr Legendre, Mr Cauchy and Mr Hachette,
and some less celebrated but very able mathematicians:
Mr Saigey, editor of the Bulletin des Sciences, and Mr
Lejeune-Dirichlet, a Prussian who came to see me the other
day believing me to be a compatriot of his. He is a mathe-
matician of great penetration. With Mr Legendre he has
proved the impossibility of solving #5 + 2/5 = s5 in whole
numbers, and other very fine things. Legendre is extremely
polite, but unfortunately very old. Cauchy is mad. ...
What he does is excellent, but very muddled. At first I
understood practically none of it; now I see some of it more
clearly. ,.. Cauchy is the only one occupied with pure
mathematics. Poisson, Fourier, Ampere, etc., busy them-
selves exclusively with magnetism and other physical sub-
jects. Mr Laplace writes nothing now, I believe. His last
work was a supplement to his Theory of Probabilities. I
have often seen him at the Institut. He is a very jolly little
chap. Poisson is a little fellow; he knows how to behave «
with a great deal of dignity; Mr Fourier the same. Lacroix
is quite old. Mr Hachette is going to present me to several
of these men.
The French are much more reserved with strangers than
the Germans. It is extremely difficult to gain their inti-
macy, and I do not dare to urge my pretensions as far as